The Insights of "Big Brother"
When a person interacts with a computer—whether browsing the web or using an ATM—the computer typically maintains some kind of record of the actions the person took with the system. This is sometimes referred to as "data exhaust": information that is the natural byproduct of the human-machine interaction.
Sometimes the analysis of this data exhaust reveals behavioral patterns through a process known as "user analytics." These analytics can provide insights into how people behave, as individuals or in aggregate, and by implication how they think and feel. Businesses can use these insights, and consequently increase their effectiveness in the marketplace by being responsive to the pulse of the customer.
Anyone who has built and launched a web site or web service has likely worked with analytics when looking over reports of page requests, all in the hope of finding out something about the customer or end user. Reports from systems such as Webtrends or Google Analytics can help answer such questions as:
- How many people came to the site and how did they get here?
- What did users do once they got here? How long did they spend? What were their navigational paths?
- Did the user get lost? Bored?
- Did the site "succeed" in closing a sale, getting a lead or delivering a service? If not, at what point did the user abandon the desired process?
User analytics can sometimes answer such questions and help guide the revision of the site, the marketing of the site or the underlying value proposition of the business.
This is not new to publishers. Market data from the BISGs and the Forresters of the world, as well as reporting from their own distribution channels and retailers, are like catnip to publishers who wish to ferret out insights about the market and in turn calibrate marketing and editorial strategy.